Believe in Yourself: Why It's Important and How to Do It
Want to believe in yourself more? Learn what self-belief is, why it matters, and discover science-based tips for how to start believing in yourself.
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What Does It Mean to Believe in Yourself? (A Definition)
Believing in yourself means having confidence in your own abilities. It means being able to trust yourself to do what you say you'll do and knowing that those efforts will result in the desired outcomes. That means that believing in yourself comes from a mixture of several key psychological experiences—experiences like self-worth, self-confidence, self-trust, autonomy, and environmental mastery. Below we'll talk about how to build each of these components of yourself and why doing so can help you believe in yourself more.
Why Is Believing in Yourself Important?
When we believe in ourselves, it kicks into gear all sorts of psychological processes that help us achieve our goals, manifest our dreams, and increase our well-being. But the flip side is also true. Lack of self-confidence or lack of belief in ourselves means we are less likely to act, to change, or to push to make things better. As a result, when we expect to fail, we are actually more likely to fail (Bénabou & Tirole, 2002).
That means that believing in ourselves is kind of like the key that turns the ignition and starts the car. We can't really go anywhere without it. Try as we might to push ourselves forward, we're blocked because our thoughts, attitudes, and actions aren't in alignment with our goals. So we either don't do what we need to do or we sabotage ourselves along the way, sometimes in obvious ways and sometimes in ways that are totally unconscious to us.
Given that believing in ourselves is so important, how do you just believe in yourself already?
How to Believe in Yourself
As I mentioned above, believing in yourself includes things like self-worth, self-confidence, self-trust, autonomy, and environmental mastery. These concepts are related but different. So I think it's useful to learn about each of them. That way, we can explore which parts we struggle with and take more efficient action to start believing in ourselves more. That way we'll get more than the advice of "just believe in yourself"—you'll have the information to understand why you don't and the tools to start shifting this belief.
Here's a quick overview. We'll go into more depth below.
These are some of the key components involved in believing in yourself. Maybe you struggle with just one of them or maybe you struggle with all of them. But by understanding where your struggles lie, it'll be easier to start shifting your attitudes about yourself.
Which Components of Self-Belief Do You Struggle With?
To better understand where you're getting stuck with self-belief, ask yourself these questions:
If you answered "no" or were leaning towards "no" to any of these questions, those are likely the areas that thwart your ability to believe in yourself.
For example, I struggle most with environmental mastery and autonomy. It's because I've had so many experiences where I was ineffective in getting what I wanted despite my best efforts. These experiences taught me to doubt myself.
What about you? What do you struggle with? Can you identify things that happened in your past that taught you to doubt yourself in the ways listed above?
Question Your Self-Doubts to Cultivate Self-Belief
Once you've identified your unsupportive self-beliefs, question these beliefs by talking back to your inner voice. If you feel like you have no value, tell yourself, "You are a valuable, amazing, person who deserves to live a good life." Or, if you don't feel confident, remind yourself of your good qualities and skills (more on this below).
Positive self-talk like this has been shown to improve our performance (Tod, Hardy, & Oliver, 2011). By saying positive things to ourselves, we can start to rewrite our internal scripts. We can slowly but surely start to develop new scripts in our minds that are a bit more like cheerleaders and a bit less like jerks. And this helps us shift our beliefs.
Believe in Your Worth
The first—and perhaps most fundamental—part of believing in yourself is believing that you have worth. If you have a difficult time believing that you are worthy of your dreams, then why would you even shoot for them? On the other hand, if you like yourself and treat yourself like someone you like, then this positive self-treatment can go a long way towards believing in yourself.
We can start to grow our self-worth by being kind to ourselves and practicing skills like self-compassion. We can talk to ourselves nicely, root for ourselves, and go easy on ourselves when we struggle or make mistakes. We might also use positive affirmations to remind ourselves of the positive thoughts we want to have about ourselves.
Believe in Your Good Qualities
To believe in yourself, you must believe that you have the qualities or skills you need to do whatever it is you want to do. So how does that work? Well, to start, it can be really helpful to create a list of your positive qualities and strengths. That way you'll know what they are.
Next, think about how these positive qualities and strengths can help you reach your goals. When you see just how many good traits you have and how they are useful to you, then hopefully you'll have to rely less on faith to believe in yourself. Instead, you'll see it right in front of you—you might say, Yes! I am a person who can accomplish this goal!
And if it turns out that you're missing key strengths that you need to reach your goals, then start working on building those strengths. None of us come into this world having everything we need to accomplish everything we want. So if there are still skills you need to build, focus on how your existing qualities and strengths can help you build those skills. We grow a little at a time, believing in ourselves a little more with each successful step we take forward.
Believe in Yourself by Building Self-Trust
We often think of trust as something we have for others. But we also have (or don't have) trust for ourselves. Having (or not having) this trust in ourselves has similar implications as having (or not having) trust for others. For example, when we trust someone, we're honest with them, we can count on them, and we are confident in them doing what's best for us.
So what might it mean when we don't trust ourselves? Well, maybe we don't want to be honest with ourselves because we're not sure what we'll do with that information. Maybe we can't count on ourselves to do the things we tell ourselves we'll do. Or, maybe we're afraid that we'll do things to harm ourselves instead of helping ourselves.
It may sound odd when spelled out like this, but many of us do indeed have self-trust issues. For example, maybe we've told ourselves a thousand times that we are going to start exercising... but we never do it or stick to it. So how likely is it that we'd believe ourselves when we again say we're going to exercise? Not very likely.
Or maybe we've told ourselves again and again that we're in a happy marriage but deep down we know the marriage is deteriorating. We've been lying to ourselves. So how do we even know we can believe ourselves? This is why building self-trust can be a key step in believing in ourselves. We have to become a person that we can believe.
Tips for building self-trust
Here are some tips to start building trust within yourself:
Believe in Yourself by Cultivating Self-Empowerment
Autonomy is the idea of self-governance. It is the freedom we have to make our own decisions and pursue our own unique paths in life. It is also sometimes referred to as self-empowerment, or the ability to take control of our own life, set our own goals, and make our own choices. In theory, we all have autonomy (at least in the USA), but there are many reasons why we might not feel like we have autonomy. Let's talk about a few of these.
How our jobs can hurt self-empowerment
In the context of our jobs, we generally have low autonomy—we have to work at specific times, do things we don't want to do, and even let other people make our choices for us. The more we get used to this lack of empowerment, the more difficult it may be to feel self-empowered. We might start to wonder--Can we actually make choices on our own? How much control do we actually have over our lives? We just don't have a lot of practice at it.
How our loved ones can hurt self-empowerment
Another way we might lose empowerment is from our well-meaning friends and family. Our parents, in particular, might tell us to pursue specific goals or live our lives in a particular way—Maybe we've been told that we "should" get a normal job, get married, and have kids, and all by the time we're 30 years old.
The "shoulds" that come from our loved ones can often end up disempowering us. We might not feel like we really do have control over our lives because having that control might upset the people we care about our change how they see us. In this case, believing in ourselves could lead to situations that we're afraid of or make us feel uncomfortable. So we might unconsciously opt not to believe in ourselves.
How our culture can hurt self-empowerment
One more thing that commonly hurts self-empowerment is our culture. For example, if it's not socially acceptable in our culture for women to be president and we are a woman, then we may not believe in ourselves if our goal is to be president. The same could be true if we are a woman who wants to be a mechanic or other male-dominated profession. The same is true for men who want to work in a female-dominated profession.
It can be hard to believe in your ability to do what others like you have not. You may not feel like you really have control over something that's governed by cultural forces beyond your understanding. And that makes sense.
Believe in yourself by taking back your power
All of these situations can take away some of our control and power. By exploring these situations, you can more easily see if any of these disempowering experiences are what's preventing you from believing in yourself. Ask yourself, is there some message that you've been told over and over again by your job, family, or culture that is leading you to doubt yourself?
These messages go deep and keep you feeling stuck even when every other part of you is ready to move forward. Here are some examples that might help you explore deeper.
Inspirational Video to Believe in Yourself
Believe in Yourself by Learning to Master Your World
Environmental mastery is all about taking effective action to achieve the results you want. If we've failed in the past or struggled to achieve the goals we've set for ourselves despite doing our best, we might not believe in our ability to do what we set our minds to. We might not believe we can do it because in the past we didn't do it. And that's totally understandable.
If we struggle here, we might have a nagging feeling that our best isn't good enough. Why believe in ourselves—why try—when it doesn't seem to work?
In the research, this type of phenomenon is sometimes referred to as learned helplessness. Early research showed that when animals were repeatedly exposed to electric shocks, they stopped trying to get away after a while, even though it was now possible to get away (Maier & Seligman, 1976). They had learned from repeated failures that no matter what they did, they could not change their situation. They could not master their environment. As a result, they no longer believed in themselves.
How to master your world
A few older studies explored ways to reverse learned helplessness (e.g., Massad, 1978), but provided few clear answers. Overall, it seems that setting small, achievable goals can help people regain a sense of environmental mastery. For example, one study showed elderly folks how to grow and take care of a plant to boost environmental mastery (Pudjibudojo & Sampe Tondok, 2017). Just the act of taking control of your environment in some small way can help.
In general, it's important for us to make good use of effective goal-setting strategies and be sure not to set overly ambitious goals. Setting goals that are out of reach may just reinforce the belief that we can not meet our goal or achieve the results we desire.
This is what I struggle with, so I know that these are tough beliefs to overcome. But I have found some early success with breaking my goals down into small chunks that I know I can achieve. My goal for today is to finish this article... and I know I can do that. Repeatedly having these small successes helps me regain my belief in myself.
5 More Tips to Believe in Yourself
In the sections above, we covered some of the main keys to believing in yourself. Here are some more tips and strategies to boost self-esteem and well-being to help you believe in yourself more.
Quotes That'll Inspire You to Believe in Yourself
Sometimes it's nice to just have a quote to inspire you to stay on track. Here are a few of my favorite quotes for believing in yourself.
Books to Help You Cultivate Healthy Self-Beliefs
Do you feel like you still need more advice to believe in yourself? Want some more guidance? Here are a few books that may help.
Believing in ourselves involves a bit more than just forcing ourselves to develop self-love and start pursuing our goals. It's more a matter of seeing where we're stuck and compassionately exploring how to get unstuck. Hopefully, these were some useful tips to get started.